The Beginning Of Mars Colonization: SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System

Nov. 25, 2017, 10:53 a.m. By: Kirti


On Sept. 27 in the year 2016, SpaceX an American Space manufacturer and transport company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, comes with specifically two goals in mind that include the reduction of space transportation cost and the other that targets itself at colonization of Mars. outlined the design of a new spacecraft at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), that could be used in the establishment of a significant human presence on the red planet- Mars within several decades that are yet to come.

The Architecture of the spacecraft basically came with a key objective which Elon Musk had previously christened the Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT), that was to deliver large quantities of passengers and equipment to Mars at costs that will turn out to be several orders of magnitude lower than any other possible alternative. Thus, The main objective of this system will be to eventually transport a maximum number of people to Mars at a cost per person that would amount to less than $200,000.

Moving on, when we look on even in more depth towards the architecture of the spacecraft:

The very new design that is known as the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), is depicted clearly in the image shown below. The parts that acted as the foundations of this very design included the presence of refueling in low-Earth orbit (LEO), vehicles that were fully reusable, an extensive usage of lightweight carbon fibers that are reinforced composite structures, methalox propellant that is densified, and the application of propellant gases for maneuvering thrusters and tank pressurization. The architecture of this new SpaceX has the ability to support scientific efforts easily such as heavy rigs for astrobiological and geological deep drilling, more expansive rover fleets, surface outposts that are manned and larger geological samples for Earth labs as well.

The launch stack that is slightly taller and wider as compared to the Apollo Saturn V, consists of a first stage booster and second stage spacecraft where both of these stages are supposed to use a new full-flow staged combustion Raptor engine along with a chamber pressure that when compared to the RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engine is said to be almost 50 percent more in number.

The first stage booster:

This first stage booster is said to employ in total 42 sea-level Raptor engines, out of which only seven will need to be gimbaled for steering. The operation of the first stage booster except that it will not have any landing legs will also be similar to the current first stage of Falcon 9. Instead, of having landing legs it will with the help of thrusters, grid fins at the top, and small fins at the bottom to accomplish a landing that is precise and directly on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center LC-39A.

The second stage spaceship:

The Second stage spaceship will employ three sea-level Raptor engines and six vacuum Raptor engines alongside and it will also contain an unpressurized cargo bay and a pressurized passenger compartment right above the propellant tanks and engines. Very much similar to a lifting body, it will present a cross-section lateral profile -aerodynamic for atmospheric re-entry that is maximum, and along one entire side of the spacecraft will be protected by a Phenolic-Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) heat shield. The new spacecraft to a vertical orientation will then rotate and the landing struts will get deployed for a retro-propulsive vertical landing when moving towards the end of the re-entry sequence.

The external appearance of the spaceship that is nearly identical, a second stage unmanned tanker instead of cargo or passenger compartments will have larger propellant tanks. SpaceX has also estimated that most three to five tanker launches will be required in order to top-up the propellant tanks of a respective Mars-bound spaceship and an advantage of this approach is that to mitigate the impact of any performance shortfalls additional tanker missions could be flown as noted by Musk himself.

SpaceX is currently pursuing a variety of possible revenue sources to fund this development vigorously as Musk estimates that the total development cost may amount to nearly $10 billion. Musk has also suggested that the development could be a public-private partnership with funding from NASA.

However, before all of this takes place, there are a few technical issues that will first need to be resolved as It is possible that there will be a need for astrobiologists that would first determine if there are any native microorganisms present on Mars. If so they do, then human activity on the surface of Mars will have to be restricted. Furthermore, all the long-term effects of low gravity on the health of passengers will need to be taken into consideration and studied beforehand. This new spacecraft that has been designed by SpaceX is just the first step in making it all possible.

SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System

Video Source: SpaceX